“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Queen couldn’t phrase the question any better than that. I know I’ve wondered if the life I’m living now is real and not some mundane daydream. We’ve all asked ourselves that question at some point, right after the first Matrix movie for some of us.
I wonder how many of you wussed out and took the blue pill.
But that is the question that remains in School Shock, a Manhua (Chinese manga) that is less about embarrassing moments in the boys’ locker room and more along the lines of robot girls, government conspiracies and explosions. Written and drawn by Sun Heng 2009, School Shock follows Shun Hao Xuan as his mundane teenager life is thrown to the wolves like a sack of carrion. One moment he’s channeling his inner emo while whining about never getting the hot girl, and in the next he’s being shot at by a flying hot girl with WAY too many guns in her arms. As reality falls apart around him, he begins to learn that there is more to his existence than he originally thought. But who is telling the truth: Liu Li, the robot girl who he learns is a “Vanguard” sent to protect him; the fragments of memory he sees; the voice in his mind that teases him with the “truth” or the society he has always lived in? What happens when he goes down that rabbit hole that is Shun Hao Xuan?
The story behind School Shock seems to be gripping and wholly satisfying. Unfortunately there are only 21 volumes released and scanlated. You could argue that 21 chapters are good enough to establish the main story, and it has. The problem is that it hasn’t moved that much in development. At this juncture, we know that a) Xuan is a “special” human being, above other humans and b) he was originally being watched but is now slated for death.
The seeming slow pace is just a small negative – there have been so many hints and red herrings that you wish more chapters would come out just to see if your theory was correct. I can honestly say that within these 20 volumes, Sun Heng has repeated the same arc twice, but has never let up on the drama and intrigue. Especially with the most recent chapters, with the story taking a more radical turn for the awesome as numerous plans (one from each individual who has some interest in Xuan) start to collide with each other.
The majority of the characters of School Shock essentially play the part of the 3rd person narrator or reader – everyone knows more that what is being seen in the manga. This adds another dimension to the characters themselves. With this aspect, the original goals and actions of the characters themselves have to be looked at again. Take the mad scientist Huai Te – at first he strikes you as an opportunist trying to plunge the world into war by killing Shun Hao Xuan. When its revealed that Xuan wasan’t really being protected, combined with the snippets of Huai Te’s past, you begin to wonder if Huai Te’s goal of killing Xuan was true or not. As for the characters themselves, Shun Hao Xuan and Liu Li are your basic tsundere couple. Xuan is the nerd that wishes that his world was more exciting while Liu Li is the premier Action Girl –kicking ass and taking names all for the sake of the mission.
School Shock’s art style resembles that of highly detailed sketchwork . The use of darkening border lines and white space leads to a style that can be easily adapted for high-paced battle or heavy drama. Trust me, School Shock sees its share of highly destructive fights: landscapers totally wiped off the map, building being blown up as if they were slate for demolition, high impact duels between individuals… At the same time, this style allows for high detail when called upon, such as the full body shots of the Vanguards right before they go into battle. One could assume that this ease of style is reflective of the story’s “smoke and mirror” plotline.
I highly recommend reading School Shock not just for the drama, but also for the action. This manga will make you wonder about the true meaning of the value of a person’s life. It’s a lot more satisfying than the latest gossip you’ll hear in the school hallways.